Independent to fill Wellstone’s post

ST. PAUL, Minn.

A steaming-mad Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed a fellow independent to temporarily fill Sen. Paul Wellstone’s seat yesterday, while Walter Mondale went on the offensive against Republican Norm Coleman in the only debate of their compressed Senate campaign.

Ventura’s choice of Dean Barkley, a major figure in Minnesota’s third-party movement, leaves the balance of power in the Senate up in the air. The two major parties now have 49 members each, with two independents.

One of those independents, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, routinely votes with Democrats. Barkley said he is not sure which way he would lean.

“I can get along with moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans,” he said. He later noted that Jeffords told him in a call, “Don’t commit to anything.” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott also called in a bid to court the newest senator.

It is unclear how long Barkley will serve. An attorney general’s opinion said the winner of the Senate election will replace Barkley once the winner is certified in mid-November. But Senate rules suggest Barkley’s term will run into early January, until the new senators arrive.

It also remains unclear whether the Senate will hold a lame-duck session between Election Day and January.

For Ventura, the timing of his angry announcement was a bit of mischief: It came just as the Coleman-Mondale debate got under way. The governor said he was upset that his Independence Party’s Senate candidate, Jim Moore, was excluded from the televised event. Moore has polled in the low single digits.

“Today, three very powerful institutions, the Republican Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-Party, and the Minnesota media are conspiring to limit the hard-earned rights of ordinary citizens,” Ventura said.

In the debate, Mondale – the 74-year-old former vice president and senator who came out of political retirement after Wellstone was killed in a plane crash Oct. 25 – questioned how independent a voice Coleman would be as a senator. The two also laid out different stances on issues such as abortion, prescription drug benefits and Social Security.

“Mondale came out swinging and showed himself ready and willing both for a fight and for public life, which is a lot of what people were wondering about,” said Lilly Goren, political science professor at College of St. Catherine’s in St. Paul.

Much of the first part of the debate focused on whether Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul who was picked for the race by President Bush, would be a puppet for the Bush administration.

Mondale called Coleman’s campaign “the poster child for what is wrong in politics,” citing its reliance on money from corporations and special interests.

“I can be independent,” Mondale said. “I owe no one when I go to Washington.”

Coleman said he disagreed with the White House on issues such as keeping Cuba cut off from trade with the United States and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

“If I win on Tuesday, the president is going to owe me big-time,” Coleman said. “We walked through fire to get here.”

Coleman also pointed out several times that federal taxes were raised when Mondale was vice president in the late 1970s.

Ventura’s choice of Barkley to temporarily fill the seat angered Minnesota Democrats.

Shortly after Wellstone’s death, Ventura said he preferred to appoint a Democrat to hold the seat since Wellstone was a Democrat. When a memorial service for Wellstone turned raucously partisan, though, Ventura stormed out and said he would consider appointing an independent.

“It’s typical Jesse Ventura,” state Democratic chairman Mike Erlandson said. “It is always all about Jesse. He decided to make a political rant when people wanted to focus on who is going to be their next U.S. senator.”

Barkley, 52, was a Democrat before switching to Ross Perot’s Reform Party. Barkley ran for the Senate in 1994 and got more than 5 percent of the vote, earning ballot status for the Reform Party in Minnesota. Ventura’s Independence Party grew out of the Reform Party.

Suicide bomber kills two near Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM

A Palestinian suicide attacker blew himself up yesterday while grappling with an Israeli security guard at a shopping mall in a Tel Aviv suburb, killing the guard and another civilian and wounding 12 other people, including two infants.

The bombing – the 81st by Palestinian militants in two years – marked a first test for Israel’s new defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, who was sworn in yesterday. Mofaz is known for his hawkish views and is an advocate of tough military action against the Palestinians.

Against the backdrop of violence, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government fended off three no-confidence votes in Israel’s parliament. Sharon rejected calls for early elections, and was searching for partners to stabilize his coalition and recapture a majority in the legislature.

In the yesterday evening bombing, the assailant, identified as 20-year-old Nabil Sawalha, blew himself up in a shopping mall in Kfar Saba, a town northeast of Tel Aviv just across the West Bank border from the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya.

Police said one of the Israeli dead was a mall security guard who struggled with the bomber, stopping him from entering a crowded appliance store.

and thereby avoiding more casualties. The bomber blew himself up as he wrestled with the guard, police said.

The other victim’s body was so badly mutilated that officials were working to determine the gender and identity.

“It seems that the alertness of the security force here prevented the terrorist from entering the shop which would have caused a great disaster,” national police chief Shlomo Aharonishki told Israel television.

“I went into the mall and in a passageway there was the guy who blew up, in a pool of his own blood,” a witness who gave his name as Ron told Israel Radio.

David Baker, an official in Sharon’s office, said the attack was “proof that Palestinian terror knows no limits, specializes in cruelty and specifically targets the innocent.”

Palestinian militants linked to the Fatah movement in Nablus claimed responsibility for the attack, contradicting an earlier report ascribing the blast to Islamic Jihad.

Earlier yesterday, two Palestinians were killed, one of them a wanted militant from the Hamas movement, when their car exploded in the middle of the street and burst into flames in the West Bank city of Nablus.

Palestinians blamed the blast on Israel, which has carried out dozens of killings of suspected militants. It appeared the Suzuki car was booby-trapped and the bomb was detonated by remote control, said Moeen Sakaran, chief of Palestinian intelligence in Nablus.

Hamad Sadder, a member of the Hamas military wing who was being sought by Israel, was killed, Palestinians said. His nephew, Mohammed Bustami carried out a suicide attack last week in a West Bank settlement that killed three Israeli soldiers, Palestinians said.

In Israel’s parliament, Sharon’s weakened government managed to withstand three no-confidence votes brought by opposition parties seeking to bring down the coalition and force new elections.

Sharon said he opposed early elections, but he also insisted he would not change government policies to accommodate a far-right party whose support he needs to restore his parliamentary majority.

“Taking the nation to immediate elections would be irresponsible,” Sharon told legislators from his right-wing Likud party. “I hope everyone acts responsibly and doesn’t try to make it difficult for a stable government to function.”

Sharon’s opposition to early elections suggested he would not accept a demand by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister. Sharon has offered Netanyahu the post of foreign minister in the hope it will firm up his government. But Netanyahu said he would accept the job on condition that Sharon agree to general elections in the coming months.

However, Sharon did not announce any decision on Netanyahu’s status.

After the moderate Labor Party quit the coalition last week, Sharon has the support of only 55 of the 120 legislators. Yesterday’s parliament session was filled with political maneuvering, but at the end of the day, virtually nothing had changed.

Sharon still needs the help of small, far-right parties to restore a parliamentary majority.

Sharon may have a temporary safety net from a far-right grouping whose seven lawmakers seem ready to prop up the government long enough to pass the 2003 state budget in coming weeks, but after that may favor forcing early elections.

Negotiators from the group, the National Union-Israel Beiteinu, presented Sharon with tough terms for joining his coalition: that he formally cancel Israel’s commitment to the 1990s interim peace accords with the PLO and declare the Palestinian Authority a terrorist entity.

“This is a good opportunity to change the government’s policies,” said Avigdor Lieberman, a lawmaker from the party. “If (Sharon) won’t change the basic policies and he won’t change anything…why should we join the government?”

However, Sharon insisted Monday “the fundamental guidelines and policies of the government will not change.”

Sharon has said elections should be held as scheduled in October 2003.

Saddam deliberates over U.N. resolution

BAGHDAD, Iraq

President Saddam Hussein indicated yesterday he would not reject outright a new U.N. resolution on weapons inspections, saying Iraq would examine the conditions it imposes before deciding on compliance, Iraqi TV reported.

Saddam’s remarks appeared to mark a shift by the Iraqi leader, who had maintained he would only accept weapons inspectors on terms laid down in previous resolutions.

The comments appeared aimed at preparing the Iraqi people for acceptance of a new resolution and at buying time to stave off any American attack.

“Iraq will look into whether it will deal with a resolution after it is issued by the Security Council,” state-run television quoted Saddam as saying during a meeting with Austrian far-right politician Joerg Haider.

In a separate meeting yesterday with South African envoy Aziz Behad, Iraqi television quoted Saddam as saying that “Iraq will respect any behavior or decision that is issued in accordance with the U.N. Charter and international law.”

However, Saddam made clear he wasn’t accepting any resolution unseen.

“If the American pressure, enticements and threats lead to decisions that contradict with the interests, security and independence of Iraq, we will defend our people, Iraq’s interests and its security,” Iraqi television quoted him as saying.

“The most important thing is that we don’t let America get the international cover for its aggression. If it unilaterally launches an aggression against us, we will confront it, God willing, although the Iraqis will be subjected to harm because America does not stop at anything,” Saddam was quoted as telling Behad.

Aid agencies prepare for Iraqi refugee crisis

AMMAN, Jordan

Fearing a repeat of the refugee crisis sparked by the Gulf War and its aftermath, aid agencies and governments are quietly drawing up plans and stockpiling supplies to help Iraqis who may flee their country if new fighting breaks out.

Neighboring countries, which took in more than 3 million displaced people a decade ago, hope to avoid a flood of migrants by sealing their borders and setting up refugee camps inside Iraq. Aid officials doubt, however, that the flow of frightened Iraqis can be halted at the border. Either way, huge amounts of supplies could be needed on short notice. International relief agencies are rapidly trying to fill warehouses in the region. “All of them are preparing for what should happen if there should be a reason for people to flee,” said Roland Huguenin of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He was bound for Baghdad with a team of doctors yesterday.

Most worrying is a scenario in which a cornered Saddam Hussein unleashes the biological or chemical weapons that Washington alleges he has.

“Here is the nightmare,” said Jamal Hattar, director of Caritas operations in Jordan. “I cannot pretend we have the capacity to respond to such a thing.”

Christer Aqvist, head of the regional delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said antibiotics or other antidotes are not part of the stockpiles. “But of course we can easily mobilize.”

Red Crescent societies from all of Iraq’s neighbors – Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Turkey – held an unpublicized meeting in Geneva on Oct. 16-17 to coordinate contingency plans. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society participated by phone, Aqvist said.

Talks have also been under way with U.N. agencies, but preparations have been kept low-profile to avoid giving the impression that war is imminent or inevitable.

“If you buy two bottles of water, people say, ‘Oh, do you know something?'” Aqvist said. “The Red Cross is not expecting war. I hope war will not come. But if war is coming, we have to be prepared.”

The federation had planned to stock six warehouses inside Iraq with $1.5 million worth of tents, blankets, heaters, kerosene lamps and personal items like soap by the end of 2003.

But “based on the current political situation,” officials decided to try to meet that goal by the end of this year, Aqvist said. They’re also building up stocks in other countries.

Most governments are expected to try to keep displaced people in Iraq, to avoid being saddled with the burden of taking them in.

Persuading frightened people to stay in border camps may not be easy, especially if there is fighting nearby. Many also will want to join relatives living in neighboring countries.

“The prospect of staying in a camp within a country that you’re trying to flee … seems to me very improbable,” said Geraldine Chatelard, an expert on Iraqi refugees at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

About 1.25 million Iraqis fled into Iran during the 1991 Gulf War and an ensuing, failed uprising against Saddam in southern Iraq. About 500,000 are still there, Chatelard estimates.

This time, Iran has drawn up plans to shelter up to 900,000 people in camps “just inside Iraqi soil,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted an Interior Ministry official, Ahmad Hosseini, as saying.

Few Iraqis are expected to try to enter Kuwait, where anti-Iraq sentiment remains from Saddam’s 1990 invasion. Kuwait has already sealed its border area even to Kuwaitis while military exercises with U.S. forces are under way.

Most of the 33,000 Iraqis who fled into Saudi Arabia a decade ago have since returned, and the Saudi government has not commented on whether it would take more.

Refugees also fled into Turkey and Syria in the aftermath of the Gulf war. This time, the two countries are readying for up to 210,000 refugees, but are expected to try to hold them at or near their borders with Iraq.

An estimated 1.5 million people ended up in Jordan after the Gulf war, including about 300,000 Jordanian-Palestinian workers expelled from Kuwait after it was liberated by a U.S.-led coalition. The rest were mainly Asians or Egyptian workers who since have been sent home.

After 12 years of crippling U.N. sanctions, far fewer migrant workers are believed remain in Iraq. But an estimated 60,000 Palestinian and other foreign students might head for Jordan.

Again this time, Jordan insists it will only admit Iraqis heading to a third country, saying it lacks the resources to settle new refugees. About 300,000 Iraqis are in Jordan now, most technically illegal.

About half of Jordan’s 5.2 million people are of Palestinian origin, many of whom oppose Jordan’s 1994 peace with Israel and support Saddam. The government also worries Israel may expel more people from the Palestinian territories if a war with Iraq erupts.

Of Iraq’s neighbors, only Turkey and Iran have signed all international agreements on accepting and caring for refugees. But in the end, public pressure may force all the surrounding countries to open their doors once again, aid officials say.

“What do you do when people are actually standing there on the border?” Huguenin said. “It will very quickly become a major problem because you can’t keep a large number of people in the desert.”

Earthquake causes Alaska oil shutdown

ANCHORAGE, Alaska

Engineers inspected the Alaska pipeline to determine the extent of the damage yesterday after one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the United States knocked out some of its supports and forced a shutdown in the flow of oil.Sunday’s magnitude-7.9 quake was so strong that it opened cracks 6 feet wide in roads and rocked boats on lakes as far away as Louisiana. However, only one minor injury was reported – a woman who broke her arm in a fall when she fled her home.

The pipeline, which carries crude from the North Slope oil fields, was shut down as a precaution, and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. spokesman Mike Heatwole said yesterday it was too soon to know when pumping would resume.

The giant conduit, about 60 miles from the quake’s epicenter, was not ruptured, but some brackets were damaged, leaving sections of the 48-inch-diameter pipe suspended without support, officials said. Crews began work on temporary supports.

The oil flow can be stopped for maintenance or other reasons without affecting oil shipments because a reserve is stored in tanks at the ocean terminal in Valdez.

Oil analysts had little concern that the pipeline shutdown would dramatically affect supplies or prices.

“As far as affecting the world’s oil markets, it would probably have to be knocked out a month or more,” said Ed Silliere, vice president of risk management at Energy Merchant LLC in New York.

Aftershocks rattled the region yesterday, one with a magnitude of 4.5, and seismologists said more could be expected for the next several days.

The quake was centered in a remote and sparsely populated area southeast of Denali National Park, 90 miles south of Fairbanks, but was felt throughout much of Alaska. It cracked highways and roads, triggered rock slides, shook houses and knocked over home fuel tanks.

“A charging brown bear I can handle. This scared the hell out of me,” said Randy Schmoker of Porcupine Creek. He watched the ground ripple with a series of 8-inch waves. “They looked like ocean waves.”

A 150-pound anvil slid 20 feet across the floor of Schmoker’s metal working shop.

State Transportation Department crews worked through the night to make temporary repairs to roads, some of which had gaps up to 8 feet deep and 6 feet wide.

In the New Orleans area more than 3,000 miles away from the epicenter, the quake made lakes ripple and sloshed water out of pools.

At Mandeville, La., Carol Barcia, 47, saw boats bouncing around and her own boat banged against its dock. “One poor guy across the canal from us fell off his sailboat,” she said.

Houseboats were shaken from their moorings on Seattle’s Lake Union, more than 1,400 miles south.

“This earthquake was shallow and the energy went directly into the surface and that is what causes these effects so far away,” said Dale Grant, a geophysicist with U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.

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